Issue: January 1, 2005

What is a stirrup hoe?


I received a "stirrup" hoe for Christmas. What is this thing, and how do I use it?


A stirrup hoe is so named because the working end looks much like a stirrup on a saddle but works differently than a traditional hoe. It is also called a hula hoe because it works with a back and forth wiggling action. It works by sliding just below the surface of the soil, cutting the roots of the weeds. It can then be used as a rake to gather the weeds into piles for disposal or composting.

The traditional hoe works by chopping weeds either above ground or below ground. If the weeds are cut above ground, they may often re-grow because their roots and some stem are left intact. If the chopping occurs below ground, the weeds can be raked up roots and all, but the soil disturbance that occurs may increase evaporative water loss. A greater problem is that seeds are exposed to sunlight. Many weeds have seed that can remain buried in the soil for many years without germinating. They are waiting for sunlight, which will stimulate growth if temperature and moisture are proper. By using the traditional hoe during the growing season, these seeds are brought to the surface where we are irrigating crops (or flowers), and they begin growing in response to the favorable conditions.

A stirrup hoe minimizes soil disturbance, and as a result may cause less drying of the soil. More importantly, it reduces the development of new weeds when used properly. (Weeds will grow, but the problem should be lessened.) The back and forth motion is more efficient because it works in both directions and causes less impact on your joints because it does not employ a chopping action.

There is still a use for the traditional hoe, but the stirrup hoe is a good addition to a gardener's collection of implements. You are fortunate to now have another valuable tool to use in your garden.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!